Sandown, 16/2/18

The two military chases at Sandown always seem like the sort of event that should produce uproar, but the story here was one of two winners that snapped their yard off of the cold list. In alignment with the first warm day for a while? The horse conspiracy theory was that they were all ganging up on Mark Johnson high up in the commentary box. It seemed that every time he made an observation on how well or badly a horse was doing, and the comments themselves were never controversial or wide of the mark, that horse responded by doig just the opposite. By the time in-running backers had noticed, the chance to profit from equine senses of humour had passed.

Going: Heavy, soft places for hurdles and Soft, heavy places for chases

Race 1: Smarkets Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle [2m]

1: Briac     2: Balibour     3: Gassin Golf

Winner owned: OS Harris, trained: Mark Pattinson, ridden: Sean Houlihan

The Empire was in action here via Georgieshore, so tracking what happened revolves around where he was - midfield throughout. Therefore it was a bit of a "where did that come from" moment when Briac appeared in front two hurdles out. He stuck on to post a local success in the opener and a nice big day for a small yard that a) has mostly flat horses and b) has been on the cold list lately. Those two factors contributed to a 25/1 starting price, but he was quite a reasonable bumper horse and had the odd hurdle run that said he was up to winning this. Balibour is becoming what is referred to as a good yardstick, which means that connections are thinking "why don't you just win a race, you buffoon." This was a close call - he might do so soon. Gassin Golf shaped as a big danger entering the straight but taking top weight up the hill soon got to him.

+   Briac (1st): Sprung a surprise on the betting public, but his past tells us that a repeat is not impossible.

+   Balgemmois (5th): Has a win and a close loss recently at Leicester and further competitive displays will come as long as he can find heavy ground.

+   Bazooka (9th): Has not been doing too badly lately but he is only a little thing and improvement is possible when drier spring ground comes around. Improve to victory even.

x   Paddy's Poem (8th): This season, mostly at Plumpton, is generally filled with positive things, but he ran here as if the raised level, and perhaps exposed handicap mark, is not within his skill set.

Empire: Georgieshore (6th): Only missed out on fourth by a length or so, making for a fair effort in a class that might be out of his range. James Bowen had not ridden him before and was not as aggressive tactically as is usual for our hero. He now knows just how devoid of anything resembling acceleration the horse is. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that making the running would have ended up with him fading into sixth instead of staying on into it.
The first three very helpfully ease down in finishing order. Other horses on other days could take note.

Race 2: Ubique Handicap Chase [1m 7.5f]

1: Tara Bridge     2: Movie Legend     3: Ubaltique

Winner owned: BJ Champion, trained: Chris Gordon, ridden: Tom Cannon

The outcome that was on the cards did not transpire. Front running Tara Bridge seemed to have set himself up to be picked off by the Movie Legend, who was cruising along comfortably at the second last. Then the stalker had to make an effort to close and jumped the last fence a bit slowly, whereas Tara Bridge really pinged it. All of a sudden they were are on the run-in and the tables have been totally turned. So much so that there was a chance that Ubaltique (an appropriate winner of the race, who was 9/34 on soft or heavy before today) plodding on dourly could even do enough to nick second.

+   Tara Bridge (1st): This result took his record in fields of six or less to 22F111, but the affinity was tested because all of his past right-handed runs were terrible. He proved that he can handle going clockwise in an otherwise appealing race.

x   Un Beau Roman (4th): Of four runners. He has been a close second from a rating of 133 in the past but nothing has really gone for him in three runs this season, and even being on only 120 here could not produce a full redemption. Dramatically off of the boil and no hint here of him turning the corner in badly mixed metaphors scenario.

Race 3: Weatherbys General Stud Book Jane Seymour Mares' Novices' Hurdle, Grade 2 [2m 4f]

1: Midnight Tune     2: If You Say Run     3: Sensulano

Winner owned: Park Homes Syndicate, trained: Anthony Honeyball, ridden: Aidan Coleman

Ten mares came for a look at this race, and nine of them could stake a claim on being a potential winner, although some had issues with the going to overcome. To destroy the cliche of running it nine times and getting nine different winners, Midnight Tune and If You Say Run eked out a little bit of dominance that exceeded the slight edge in official rating that the pair brought to the party. If You Say Run took things patiently and seemed a massive danger two out, but Midnight Tune had forced a very manageble pace and thus had just enough up her sleeve to keep the looming menace at bay. The winner had flopped badly in a Grade 2 for her last run, so she showed today that it was an effort too bad to be true, as was suspected at the time. If You Say Run snapped a sequence to make her hurdling result 12122, but the really pleased people are those with Maria's Benefit, who absoluted bashed her at Taunton recently.

+   Midnight Tune (1st): Showed here that she is not far short of being able to entertain pretensions to championship status amongst the mares.

x   Sensulano (3rd): Looked a bit of a thinker when she won a small field race run at a dawdle and the same happened again. Three out she was leading the chasing pack apprently comfortable, but then made hard work of holding that position rounding the final bend. When she regained the thread two out, it was too late to contend. Perhaps she just needs more experience, but a bit of caution should be shown if she takes on a lesser race next time, and she is layable at short prices.

x   Oh Michelle (PU): She had a year off between her last bumper run and hurdles debut, where she was an eye-catching runner-up in a big field. The idea that she might come on for the race both physically and mentally was shot down in flames by her inability to make her presence felt at any time.

Race 4: Castel Royal Artillery Gold Cup Chase [3m]

1: Rathlin Rose     2: Midnight Monty     3: Renard

Winner owned: Don Churston, trained: David Pipe, ridden: Guy Disney

Rathlin Rose won both military races in 2017, but he had embarked on that double header from a position of being in far better form then compared to what he had been up to this season - being not quite awful in the Welsh National and awful in everything else is a small straw to clutch at. Of course, in these races the range of jockey skills is very broad, and Rathlin Rose had the benefit of the top choice in the plate. So when Renard seemed to get the rest of the field at it thanks to a solid display of jumping in front, there was still opportunity for Rathlin Rose to burst into life and pick him off before the final fence. Midnight Monty was not so fluent early on, ridden in mid-race and finally stayed on well enough to out last Renard, who has been placed in all of Rathlin Rose's military race wins. What a double act they are making. Paul Nicholls always has to be feared in these but the horse selected to contested it from Ditcheat was Orbasa, who is a questionable stayer in need of better ground. This going and distance combination was almost certain to find him out.
Rathlin Rose appears to be a bit surprised to be getting the post-race attention, which with his unbeaten record at Sandown is not the expected reaction.

Race 5: Smarkets Novices' Hurdle [2m]

1: Notre Ami     2: Et Moi Alors     3: Mister Malarkey

Winner owned: Morpheus Partneship, trained: Nick Gifford, ridden : Leighton Aspell

A warning from history. Et Moi Alors had only one race in his life and he fell. It was at Ascot, the fall was at the last hurdle and he was in front at the time, plus the main threat, which he brought down, won a modest mares only race at Plumpton earlier in the week. Still, would you want to be backing a horse that had never finished a race and had an undoubtedly unpleasant first experience of racing at odds of 1/2? The answer was no before the race and emphatically no afterwards. Et Moi Alors ran a decent enough race and looked a potential winner two out, but Notre Ami was just a little bit too good for him. Notre Ami was lacking experience on heavy ground, but his two second places on soft since Christmas was a decent enough form. Mister Malarkey actually edged out Notre Ami for second spot in the betting, presumably because his discouraging runs came when the Tizzard yard was a bit quiet. It turns out that the Notre Ami's recent form could also be improved upon. But in the end, what do we make of it all? A race in which none of the quartet were an appealing option, but someone had to win.

Race 6: Smarkets Handicap Chase [3m]

1: Tanit River     2: Aubusson     3: Step Back

Winner owned: Brian Ead & Martin Moore, trained: Tim Vaughan, ridden: Alan Johns

A difficult race to predict because the top six runners all came from stables who are in measurably strong form lately. The remaining quartet featured a couple of runners who have been doing well as individuals this season. The win was a comfortable one for Tanit RIver, who was not in either of those groupings. Part of the reason is that Newbury, Cheltenham and Stratford, for various reasons, are not his sort of tracks. Easy ones like Sandown are, and he enjoyed this enough to overlook his usual bias towards undulating courses. All the way from the Pond Fence three out Tanit River was the one travelling best and whilst Aubusson gamely tried to worry his way to the front, it was not to be. Before the railway fences the other horse that would have been called as destined for a place was Bally Longford, but his response to coming under pressure was devoid of conviction.

+   Step Back (3rd): Started favourite, which was a challenge for a horses with only two hurdle races and a novice chase under Rules - but a good strike rate in Irish points. In the circumstances he ran perfectly well and it is possible that having won his hurdle on good to soft going, he was not best suited by these conditions.

+   Potters Legend (4th): His efforts this season have been all over the shop (i.e. not all bad). This was looking like it would be a much better performance but a mistake two out stopped him in his tracks and he faded to fourth. He could be homing in on a win, but his stauing power at three miles is still not 100% convincing.

x   Muckle Roe (6th): In the past he has struggled when above class 4 level, and after a win last time his rating of 128 forces him above that standard. The result was entirely foreseeable, and will be in future.

x   Aloomomo (PU): Whilst he had pulled up in his previous run there were lots of reasons to imagine him bouncing back. Alas, nobody told the horse, as after a bad mistake at fence twelve he struggled along at the back before pulling up leaving the final bend.

x   Bally Longford (PU): This seemed to be an ideal race but he had not been at his best lately and when the nature of the race put him under pressure, the outcome was indifference.

UK-Jumping Selections: Tanit River (1st): Although he is selected for easy, undulating courses, he had a level track win before and running him in the wrong places this season had got him well handicapped. A follow up is possible but the rating will rise and he may need more perfect events to cope.

Race 7: Smarkets Novices' Handicap Hurdle [2m 4f]

1: Broken Quest     2: Herewego Herewego     3: The Sweeney

WInner owned: Wright Morgan Ltd & Partner, trained: David Dennis, ridden: Sean Houlihan

The tale of this race is a simple one to tell, which readers will be glad of at the end of what seems a long report. The Sweeney made the running. Hat trick seeking Broken Quest laid down a challenge two out. The Sweeney scrapped away until running out of steam just before the final flight. Herewego Herewego then emerged to threaten the winner, who would not let him get by. Less than a length in it, to close the racing. Broken Quest was running on a seven day turnaround here, as a heftier rise than the penalty is due. Either life is going to be tougher or Herewego Herewego needs to get a quick return in before the handicapper decides 122 is not a realistic rating.

+ +   Herewego Herewego (2nd): Probably will not be any price next time unless chucked into a far more difficult race, but it was an excellent effort.

+   The Sweeney (3rd): Cannot seem to find a winnable race but goes about his work liekably enough. Is it time to say "wait for chases."
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